Coralie Jean-Francois, a student at Fordham University, has been dreaming of studying in Paris since she attended French High School. So when colleges closed international academic programs due to the pandemic, they were devastated.
Now, in her final semester, she has the green light to buy her airline tickets to study abroad in January. Jean-Francois is among the many university students, especially the elderly, in the tri-state region who have had to wait until the pandemic is over to study abroad.
With international education programs slowly reopening this academic year, they are reporting pre-pandemic enrollment levels at or near very limited offerings, evolving COVID-19 concerns and travel restrictions.
University study abroad officials are constantly dealing with unpredictable emergencies like this one caused by the developing pandemic. Even with the emergence of a new variant, omicron, they are cautious – but they still plan to continue sending students out of the country the next semester and open up more international study destinations.
“My program has been canceled three times,” said Jean-Francois. “It was overwhelming, and the uncertainty added to my disappointment, but I really want to experience French culture in France.”
before the epidemic, About 2% of the students In the United States engaged in a foreign educational experience, or approximately 350,000 people. When the pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, colleges suspended their programs and sent their students home. The number of people studying abroad has fallen by nearly half during 2019-2020 academic year, according to the International Teachers Association.
This fall, Fordham University reopened its London-only program. Enrollment on this campus was higher than usual, said Joseph Rinty, director of the Study Abroad Office. For the upcoming spring semester, Rienti said they open about half of their foreign study sites, but for a full slate of students that matches a typical semester total when all of their international destinations are offered.
“I’m not surprised how many students I’ve seen show an interest in studying abroad,” said Christopher Nicolosi, who oversees New York University’s Office of Global Programs, one of the largest in the country. “Even during this pandemic, we have students coming in every day and saying I really want to do this, how can I do this and where can I go?”
At Rutgers University, students have been constantly registering with the Global Study Abroad office, asking CEO Dan White when they can go, especially seniors who are running out of classes to travel.
But travel hasn’t fully returned to normal yet. While students can travel around the host countries, they are prohibited from traveling outside of them. Nicolosi said he is asking students to stay in their host countries due to the sudden closure of borders due to the rise in coronavirus cases and new variables.
Despite the risks and limitations, Dr. Wafaa Al-Sadr, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said the experience of learning in another language and culture is well worth it. The benefits go beyond the excitement of being abroad. Increased foreign language proficiency, improved job prospects, and personal growth are some of the most cited reasons, according to the Institute of International Education.
“Studying abroad is more important now in the COVID era as we know we are all very interconnected,” Al-Sadr said. “And with due diligence, I believe this can be done safely and successfully.
Before embarking on studying abroad, Al-Sadr said that students should closely monitor the COVID-19 situation in their destination country. They must also be in good health, and if they do not have or suffer from underlying health conditions, they must reconsider depending on infection rates at their intended destinations.
Vaccination is a requirement for most universities and countries, and Dr. Julian Klapowitz, a travel medicine specialist at the private clinic in Manhattan, strongly recommends that Americans get a booster dose before traveling abroad.
While it is unlikely that a teen or person in their twenties will be seriously ill or die from the coronavirus, Clapowitz urged caution but encouraged students not to wait for COVID-19 to pass. He said it would be around for years.
“If one of my children wanted to go abroad and were vaccinated and boosted, I would actually be fine with that,” Clapowitz said. “Actually, I’m going to take my family to Kenya on safari, and one of them is a university student.”
Clapwitz warns that there is a high risk outside the United States depending on what health services are available and how seriously that country takes the pandemic. Students must continue to monitor infection and vaccination rates throughout their foreign studies, and keep abreast of evolving protocols from their schools and the host country.
In Italy, where Rutgers University student Alice Lee is studying, she must carry proof of vaccination, wear a mask in class and have regular temperature checks and tests.
As an additional personal precaution, Klapowitz recommended packing supplies of masks, medication for flu-like symptoms, personal medical records and contact information for whom to contact or where to go for medical care.
This information was vital to me when her roommates were ill with the coronavirus infection. They called a physician-on-call number provided by Rutgers University, and Medicaid immediately came to their care.
Nearly two years after contracting the coronavirus, seniors like Coralie-Jean-Francois are confident that universities and their students can handle the rapidly changing world of the pandemic. She’s following the news as she prepares to leave the country next month, and is hoping Omicron will not cancel her last chance to study abroad in her graduation class.
“Now I am more ready to go. I have learned to adapt quickly to new situations and protocols – what to do and what not to do,” said Jean-Francois. “And even if I don’t go to France before graduation, I will find a way to go after university.”